My first cell phone was a blue Motorola Talkabout T180. I emphasise the 'blue' because that was by far the only redeeming quality about the phone. It was bulky, ugly, devoid of basic cell phone features save for calls and messages, had horrible ringtones and was just downright daft. But I was young, and I had just started college; the sole purpose of the phone was to stay in touch with the family back home anyway.
I had bought a SIM, and soon I was in business. I'm no techno-dinosaur, but even if I was, the simplicity of my phone meant that even one that was completely fossilised could still text and make calls with ease. However, there was one little bit of information that I wasn't quite sure about, and that was the tariff plan for my connection. I was brutally reminded of it when I made my first call back home. I spoke for about 2 minutes when the call got cut. I checked my balance and found that the small fortune that had existed on my prepaid connection (thanks to Dad) had been vapourised!
After that mortifying incident, I was much more cautious with regards to my cell phone usage. No more international calls, thank you very much! I also realised that the package I had at that time was extremely forgiving when it came to messaging - it was free! Yes, no strings attached, free messaging anywhere inside of India! Even calls between numbers of the same network were free between midnight and 6am, needless to say this spawned many late night conversations that ended only when someones battery gave up.
However, just when I was convinced I would never have to put credit in my phone again, the service providers suddenly decided to change their scheme to one that didn't have 'happy hours' for calls and which charged for messages! Within days, every single one of my friends that had this connection were broke. Since messaging had always been free, people were unable to suddenly break their 200 messages/day habits, and as a result ended up paying for it - literally.
Which brings me to the point of this post - what is up with telecom providers? Today's call rates are about as predictable as a game of Russian Roulette. Every country has different tariffs and plans, every provider has different packages, every segment of the day has a specific rate - it's enough to drive a man into resorting to smoke signals! In India, all incoming calls to mobiles are free. In Dubai, all local land line calls are free. In Australia, sending an international text message is only a fraction cheaper than making an international call. In China if you speak too long, the police arrest you for noise pollution.
I can understand the need for different providers to promote different packages compared to their competitors, so as to attract the market. But surely there should be some form of sense here! Instead, while one telecom provider boasts great coverage and crystal clear voice clarity, the other promises to pay you when you receive a call. No, that is not a typo.
But what bothers me the most is the almost random IDD call rates. For some reason, calls to the US and to the UK are ridiculously cheap when compared to other countries. Not that I have anyone to call in either country (though I'm working on it!) but the point still stands!
Allow me to demonstrate - let's assume I have a certain special someone in India. For the sake of argument, let's also assume that I feel the burning need to call her as often as possible. It would cost me Rs.15 per minute with my current connection. Now, let's assume she visits her parents in, say, Kuwait. Once again, because of my burning need (to call her, to CALL her!) I pick up my phone and dial. But wait, according to my tariff plan, the call will cost me exactly twice the amount it did when she was in India! But what's even more interesting is that if she decided to vacation in the Bahamas, travel half way across the world to the States or accidentally end up on a plane to Iceland, that call would be a lot cheaper than if she travelled to the Gulf! Calling Iceland is cheaper than calling the Gulf! In fact, calling Iceland is cheaper than calling India!
I'm sure there's a perfectly technical and acceptable reason for all this, involving satellites and economics and exchange rates - and then they'll tell me calls to certain mobile carriers in Uganda entitle me to free pedicures. That makes total sense.